European Free Trade Association — [Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:39 am on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 10:39 am, 7th February 2018

It is a pleasure to wind up for the Opposition and to see you in the Chair, Mr Gapes. I join other hon. Members in congratulating Stephen Hammond on securing this debate and on the considered way in which he framed the issue.

The Labour party has continually made clear that we want to seek a deal with the European Union that secures all the benefits of the single market and the customs union and that involves no diminution of the EU-derived rights—employment rights and equality rights—health and safety standards, and environmental protections and standards that we currently enjoy.

Jobs and the economy must be the Government’s priorities in the next phase of the negotiations, so it is absolutely right that Parliament debates in detail the pros and cons of any and every means of potentially securing a departure from the EU that protects both. I echo what many hon. Members have said in the debate this morning: every option must be kept on the table.

It reflects poorly on the Government that Back Benchers have to bring Ministers to Westminster Hall and have only an hour to speak on issues of this importance. We should be debating the pros and cons of European Free Trade Association arrangements and other arrangements in great detail on the Floor of the main Chamber; that we are not doing so is a missed opportunity.

I very much welcome the attempt by the hon. Member for Wimbledon to convince the Conservative party to ditch the ideological baggage, and to drag with him the Government and the small group on the Government Benches who favour—for ideological reasons—the hardest of departures from the European Union.

There are misconceptions about EFTA, and they need to be challenged. We need to have an honest debate about what the trade-offs and the compromises involved in an EFTA arrangement, or other arrangements, would be. However, all options must be considered and, as other hon. Members have said, nothing should be taken off the table.

In the brief time I have available to me, I will sound a few notes of caution about the trade-offs when it comes to EFTA, or at least examine some of them. I will start with the transition period, because a number of different views have been expressed this morning about whether EFTA would apply in the transition or afterwards and about the variants that it might cover.

I fail to see how EFTA could work in terms of a transitional arrangement, and that is for two reasons. The first is that, as we have argued for some time, the Government must pursue transitional arrangements on the same basic terms as those that apply now, which includes membership of the single market and the customs union, and would involve the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is supported by businesses and trade unions, and—if people pay any attention to what the European Commission has been saying on the EU27, they will know this—it is also the only option that is available. I cannot see how EFTA, as a transitional vehicle, could be realistically negotiated.

Even more importantly, an EFTA transition would in a sense entail what the Government—and we agree with them on this—have explicitly sought to avoid. Businesses and individuals do not want two points of transition towards the end state. They do not want a situation whereby they would depart the EU and go on to EFTA terms, and then go on from EFTA terms to the final end state of a bespoke deal.